2022 Best & Brightest MBA: Sam Yoder, Indiana University (Kelley)

Sam Yoder

Kelley School of Business at Indiana University

“Idea builder, “snow plow”-er of problems, and the hype girl you’ve always wanted.”

Hometown: South Bend, Indiana

Fun fact about yourself: To pay my way for a high school choir trip to New York City, I put on my own concert for friends and family, singing everything from show tunes to opera arias.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Bachelor of Arts in Spanish (major), Public Relations (minor), Taylor University

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Emplify, Employee Engagement Coach

Where did you intern during the summer of 2021? Salesforce, Indianapolis, Indiana

Where will you be working after graduation? Salesforce, Principal Success Manager

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • MBA Association President
  • Forté Fellow
  • Walt Blacconiere Student Award
  • Catherine Guffin Bain Graduate Fellowship
  • Prospective Student Host
  • Faculty Selected Member of the Business Marketing Academy

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? In February 2021, my classmates elected me as president of the MBA Association (MBAA). As president, it was my responsibility to lead eight of my classmates on the MBAA leadership team and all 25 club presidents as we developed student programming for the academic year. The prior student leadership team had done an incredible job, but many of the events during their term had been modified with COVID restrictions. When my team took over, in many ways, we were planning from scratch.

By the end of our term, we had reestablished time-honored traditions like football tailgates, Boat Day, joint celebrations with other graduate programs, and an executive speaker series as well as added new events like a holiday party and a chili cook-off. On top of this, we revamped the MBAA budget, advocated for additional diversity programming support, moderated the program office and student relations, and developed countless resources to support all students in their job and internship searches.

I’m beyond proud of my team and everything they accomplished, but I am also proud of myself. The presidential role expanded my repertoire as a leader from my first day in office. I’ve become a more confident decision-maker and communicator and now have a proven track record of leading a successful team. I had to make tough decisions that people didn’t always like, but at the end of this year I’m passing on my responsibilities knowing the student body trusted me as their leader.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? During my time with Emplify (acquired by 15Five), an employee engagement software solution, the customer success department and I discovered a gap in our service offering. We decided to create a new service to help mid-managers lead their employees more effectively, but we didn’t know exactly what that service was going to look like. My boss asked me to be one member of the two-person team attacking this project.

Over the next few months, I tested out different solutions, marketing tactics, and pricing structures, all while gathering data from existing clients about their needs. This research led us to develop a manager coaching service sold directly to the C-suite that was then distributed to different mid-level managers throughout clients’ organizations. By the end of this project, I was coaching 15 managers a week, totaling around 600 hours of coaching per year. Due to the quality of coaching I was providing, we obtained a significant portion of our quota through this service. I was extremely proud to see a project I worked on from start to finish provide tangible benefits to our clients through coaching plus significant revenue for my company. It was one of the first experiences that showed me how much I love taking ideas and making them reality.

Why did you choose this business school? I could name so many reasons why I chose Kelley, but first among them was the culture. As a born and raised Hoosier, I’m deeply drawn to Midwestern hospitality and kindness and that was more than present in the Kelley students I met. I received personalized emails, a handwritten note, immediate answers to my outreach, and even a care package outfitted with items developed by Kelley alumni – it was clear to me that Kelley wanted me to be a part of their program. I knew I could have gotten a great education at any of the top programs, but at Kelley I also saw a community that reflected my values. I got to walk into a group of people that wanted to support each other in this next step and see everyone around them succeed. After two years, I’m happy to report that I would choose Kelley again.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? While I don’t have the course lists in front of me, I’m pretty sure I’ll graduate having taken every single one of Greg Fisher’s courses. Greg is an avid researcher of how to achieve success through innovation and taught my favorite classes: “Entrepreneurship and Corporate Innovationand “Venture Strategy.” Both of these classes are entirely case-based, highly discussion-oriented, and tie back to an overarching framework that can immediately be taken into the workplace.

A great example of this comes from his “Entrepreneurship and Corporate Innovation” class. We were studying Adobe’s iconic Kickbox framework, where Adobe figured out how to leverage their existing employees to jumpstart their innovation engine. Where previously they were looking at years of development and millions of dollars to bring innovative ideas to fruition, the Kickbox project significantly reduced development time and project cost. As a startup veteran getting ready to enter a large corporate environment at Salesforce, the Kickbox framework of democratizing innovation was invigorating and encouraging to me. Just because I’m leaving the small company space doesn’t mean I need to give up developing ideas into actions – those two things can live hand-in-hand. When I came to get my MBA, many in my start-up community didn’t quite get it, which is okay – that wasn’t their path. But it’s classes like Greg’s where I think, “Yep, this was exactly what I needed to make it to the next step in my career.”

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? During my first semester, I lived in Indianapolis and commuted to the Bloomington campus due to my family situation. While this worked fine for that season, I ended up getting an apartment in Bloomington in my second semester to have better access to campus.

Looking back, I wish I would have gotten an apartment in Bloomington from the very beginning. I missed a lot of casual hang-out time with my classmates during that first semester that would have helped me build relationships faster. I’m grateful that I get to live there part-time now, but I’m bummed I missed out on some of those early days.

What surprised you the most about business school? I was sitting in my first Strategy class, taught by Will Geoghegan, studying a case comparing Blue Apron and Hello Fresh. A classmate said something I disagreed with, so I promptly raised my “devil duck” to disagree. For some context: on the first day in Will’s class, he passed out a small rubber duck with devil horns to each student. When we disagreed with each other, which was encouraged, we were to raise our devil duck and explain why we disagreed.

As I explained why I disagreed with my classmate, I couldn’t help but feel like I’d found my niche. Here was an entire group of people who all wanted to debate the pros and cons of a marketing strategy of a company we didn’t even work at, and they were having fun doing it. I’ve always been pretty nerdy, but business school has allowed a whole other level of nerd to surface — and it’s cool. I’m surrounded by people who care about the same things I do and love talking about them; it was the most surprising and delightful thing.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose?

Kelley has a very relational application process. Students reached out. I got handwritten mail and packages. As a relational person myself, I reached back out in return. Before my interview at Kelley, I had talked to quite a few alumni, current students, and program office staff. By the time my application was reviewed, I knew why I wanted to be at Kelley and how it fit with my goals.

I also tried to fill out my applications as authentically as I could. I knew that I was choosing a place for the next two years. If I didn’t show up as myself, neither side would know if it was a good fit. I had people who knew me outside of the application process read my essays and listen to my interview stories to make sure I was being genuine throughout. While I’ll never know for sure, I’m convinced that being myself helped Kelley know I was a good fit.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? The classmate I most admire is Kathleen Lavallee. Kathleen and I crossed paths in many capacities throughout the MBA program, including group projects, shared classes, and club leadership. She’s incredibly smart and passionate about learning and helping others learn alongside her. She has been one of my most trusted confidantes as I’ve grown in my role as president and my favorite debate partner as we’ve dug into our course work.

The best example of this I can think of comes from our pricing class. We were working separately on a pricing strategy for a new product and our two teams had decided on different strategies. We were both confident in our beliefs, but our two strategies could not co-exist. We weren’t working in a team; we were just two business students who wanted to learn the best way to price a product. We argued our two sides for over an hour, and eventually she came to my side of the issue (which is rare in our discussions, as she’s much smarter than me). At the end of our conversation, she looked at me, smiled, and said, “That was fun.” We spend our free time debating and digging into our schoolwork because we both want to push ourselves and each other to be better.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? Jeff Aupperle was and is perhaps the most influential presence I’ve ever had in my life. Jeff was the founder of Promising Ventures, the interdisciplinary entrepreneurship program at my undergraduate university. It was a program for students of all majors to learn about the power and inner workings of entrepreneurship and acquire general business acumen. At the time, I was an unhappy education major looking to discover my path. Jeff and this program opened my eyes to how much I loved business and the positive impact it can have in the world.

I graduated without a business degree, but with a job in the startup space. I would not have gotten my first job in the business world that eventually led me to get my MBA and to where I am now without Jeff’s influence and confidence in me.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

  1. Write a book
  2. Run my own business

How has the pandemic changed your view of a career? “Where do you want to be in five years?” should permanently be removed from all interviews. If any of us were to go back five years and project where we would be now, we wouldn’t even be close. The world, our work, maybe even some of our dreams have fundamentally changed, and how we view ourselves into the future and in our future careers has shifted along with it.

In thinking about my career, I had always considered the number of people I wanted to lead or the size of the portfolio I wanted to run, thinking about my career only in metrics and numbers. But since the onset of the pandemic, my desires have shifted. I think much more about finding work that is fulfilling, working with people I admire and respect, and developing a career where I can have influence and make things better. The next five years for me are focused much less on growth and striving, since I truly have no idea what the next five years will hold, and more focused on doing the best I can wherever I choose to be.

What made Sam such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2022?

“Sam and her class entered our program in 2020, just a few months into the COVID-19 pandemic. Their first year was characterized by a myriad of changing public health regulations, hybrid classes and a complete lack of the social, networking, and academic events that normally bond students together. Sam was elected President of Kelley’s MBA Association (the “MBAA”) in February 2021. This has been a tricky time to be a student leader, and Sam has stepped up to the challenge, working hard to balance student demand for in-person activities with evolving university regulations. She has been transparent with students on the rules and brought their concerns and creative solutions to our office so that as the situation has evolved, her team could provide programming opportunities quickly and safely.

In addition, Sam is committed to making Kelley an even more inclusive environment. She consistently used her position to be an ally for underrepresented student populations, transmitting their concerns and making sure that a multitude of voices are heard and considered when planning activities or advocating for changes. She is an excellent listener and clear communicator and has used those skills throughout her time at Kelley with both students and the program administration.  It’s been a pleasure and an honor to work with Sam—a truly outstanding student leader.”

Emily Stern
Director of Student Services and Global Programs, Full-Time MBA Program


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